The Itzu Project

The word "Itzu", I hear, is Japanese for either "one and the same" or "pain in the stomache", depending on how you pronounce it.

Back when I believed that my catalytic perpetual motion machine would work, and I was very into nanotechnology, I started hammering out what the distant future might actually be like. I had some ideas of what changes would happen, but what is implied by the changes? How would they interact? This is what I came up with.

Basics of the itzu universe

  1. When there are several reasonable solutions, all of them will be used, producing variety.
  2. Nanotechnology will happen.
  3. Things will reach a steady state -- no more technological progress, no more growth, all matter and energy is accounted for. Fashion and culture will change forever, as does the weather.
  4. The colonization of space will happen. Gravity makes going up and down harder than going sideways, which forces cities on planets to be two-dimensional. Think how much shorter your commute would be if Silicon Valley was in space! Some planets may be dismantled to provide more matter for colonies.
  5. Humans will be obsolete. A nanotech computer that simulates a human brain would be much smaller than a human brain, much faster, would require less energy and maintenance, and could be backed up or rebuilt from scratch. People in space get motion sickness, eat a lot, have trouble going to the bathroom, need space suits, and so on.
  6. The earth will be preserved in its entirety as a sort of museum and nature reserve. There will still be bushmen and Amish farmers.
  7. Space will be populated by itzu. I made up the term. They are of nanotech construction, built to live in zero gravity. What today is built to live in zero gravity? Ants. Itzu will be smaller than mice, at least as smart as humans, and will probably resemble bugs or crabs. They will come in many shapes and sizes.
  8. Itzu will live in cities. The matter of the city is itself alive, and governs itself and its inhabitants. Groups of cities will form democracies. (You can't get cities too large or too close to one another, or gravity becomes a bother).
  9. Cities will fill a set of orbits circling the sun that prevents collisions, keeps neighbors next to neighbors, and can fill a donut-shaped 3-dimensional region. It is possible to map where cities are, and there is a sense of locality. Note that gravity is attractive, but itzu jumping from one city to another is repulsive. The pressure for cities to fly apart may be greater than that of gravity pulling them together; cities may need to be tethered in place.
  10. Cities will not usually be cold, metallic, and gray. They may resemble red coral reefs, or green lattice structures like huge diamond crystals, or soft black tangles of plants, or blue bags of water.
  11. Itzu will be backed up, just as hard drives are backed up today. Insurance is a first profession. Insurance companies will be in the business of collecting backups, maintaining the backups as reliably and efficiently as possible, and recreating itzu from the latest backup when something happens to them. That means that itzu are immortal.
  12. If all itzu are immortal, won't it get crowded? Well, no, there's a lot more space than matter. But won't all the matter get used up? They say two things you can count on: death and taxes. Itzu can't count on death, but if they live in a community they can count on taxes. And taxes mean matter taxes, including the matter they are composed of. And if they can't pay for their own weight, that eventually means death.
  13. Tax collecting is a second profession.
  14. Home decorating is a third profession. Many itzu will live somewhere, and that somewhere will beg to be decorated. That decoration will be entirely a subject of fashion.
  15. Fishing is fourth profession, and it means wandering empty space and gathering matter. I imagine fishers would look like a fishing reel, just a spinner and one very long tongue. They'd be bigger than normal itzu and as black as solar cells. Fishers don't pay matter taxes, they are a city unto themselves. But fishers must protect themselves from being gathered by other fishers.
  16. Movers are a fifth profession. They move things from here to there.
  17. Plants are a sixth profession. They gather light and convert it to chemical energy, to be used by other itzu.
  18. Travellers are a seventh profession. They shoot out into the universe in all directions at about the speed of light, hoping to find a solar system that doesn't have any itzu yet so they can build a world to their liking.
  19. Itzu will talk like computers talk -- with light directly, or through fiber through the city. They'll be more likely to display a scene than describe one. All potentially interesting experiences will be recorded, readily available, and indexed. What could you do if you had a photographic memory? Thoughts would still be private, and quantum cryptography guarantees that private conversations will also be possible.
  20. The speed of light makes other itzu colonies beyond the solar system of negligible importance. They are there, but so what.

That is the general shape of the itzu universe.

The city of Reef

Next I tried building a single city, its inhabitants, its transportation network, its culture, the games its itzu play, and so forth.

The city is Reef, it is based on a red coral reef and New York, New York. It would be about a kilometer cube. The basic shape would be like a diatom, a hollow sphere with spikes radiating out in all directions. No air; vacuum. For transportation, the spikes would have tubes which the itzu would fly through. How would they fly with no air? Some sort of magnetic propogation. Open question.

There is a game called Earth. It is played with a very large ball in a slightly larger chamber, with two teams of itzu. The goal is to get all of your team on the ball, and all of the other team off. Remember that there is no gravity.

There is another game played with a rope which is like volleyball. Your team keeps the rope from hitting your side of the court, and you're not allowed to cross to the other team's side of the court. I imagine the court being shaped like the inside of a peanut shell.

Even with all this background, I can't imagine what life would be like for an itzu, so the story stops here.

What if we were invaded by aliens?

People talk about aliens invading. There's even an insurance company in England that sells Alien Impregnancy Insurance. What do you think would happen if a traveller hit our solar system? Would we see giant UFOs hovering in the sky, threatening to blow us up? And could we fight it off with jets and atomic bombs?

First he'd set up defenses so that no other traveller could invade his solar system. Next he'd probably make a bunch of backup copies of himself to make sure he doesn't accidentally get wiped out. Then he'd take an inventory of what was his, and find us. (Actually he'd know about us long before he arrived in the solar system, from our radio broadcasts.)

How would we first learn there was an alien? He's only a meter cubed or smaller, so we wouldn't see him in space. Would he land on earth? What for? If he's only interested in mining matter, we'd probably first notice that the asteroid belt was dissolving.

If the alien is interested in Earth life, he'd send a copy of himself down to earth. What would he look like? He'd hide, like a birdwatcher. Maybe he'd look like a rock. Or a bird. Or an ant colony. Or maybe bacteria, and he'd infect everyone and everything. To detect such an alien, impulsively knock something small in your home into liquid helium, then examine strips of it with an atomic force microscope. That might catch him before his probes self-destruct. Maybe. You'd probably notice the alien first because of the asteroid belt dissolving.

(At first I thought gravity wells were a problem, but I was reading Neal Stephenson's "Diamond Age" and it appears they aren't. Nanotech makes it easy to build things lighter than air (you put a vacuum inside), so going between space and a planet's surface isn't really a problem as long as the planet has an atmosphere.)

Suppose the alien wants to teach things to the humans. He could pretend to be a human, or plant the ideas in people's heads. He could appear as a little green man with tentacles. He could come down from the sky like a human with wings in a dazzling white toga, and a glowing gold ring over his head. Whatever.

Suppose we learned this alien was there, and we wanted to get him off our planet or out of our solar system. What could we do about it? Nothing. Remember the backups he made of himself out around Pluto? We could vaporize the whole planet Earth and still not affect him. Our only hope would be to develop nanotechnology first so we can meet the travellers on their own level.

The best guesses are that we will reach nanotechnology in ten to twenty years, and nanotechnology will reach this level of maturity within a few hundred years. If the aliens aren't here already, the chances of them showing up before we're ready for them are awfully slim.

Now isn't that a reassuring thought.

Pentagons that tile the plane
Why there aren't any perpetual motion machines
Computing the HOMFLY knot polynomial
Dirigiped design page
Table of Contents